DIRECTOR Fritz Lang
Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Andes, J. Carroll Naish
Fritz Lang vastly improves on Clifford Odets' play by giving it legs; also surf, sand, sky and gulls. Barbara Stanwyck returns to the fishing village that hatched her now middle-aged and aimless. Her walk down the street early in the film is of the caliber of Gary Cooper. This is a woman who has lived and breathed pain and frustration all her life, and it shows in everything she does. Stanwyck has never better than she is here, and she dominates the film, vanquishing such heavyweight co-stars as Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, J. Carroll Naish and Marilyn Monroe. Miss Stanwyck does not so much chew the scenery as stroke it; she is magnificent in this movie, which seems almost to flow from her. As her simple, trusting husband Paul Douglas is almost as good; and Robert Ryan nearly steals the show as a sadistic loser who is somehow magnetic, pathetic and yet highly observant, all at the same time. Odets' duologue is pungent and awfully good to hear. He was better than the Barton Fink caricature of several years ago. His lines ooze well thought-out ideas of cruelty and defeat, and his characters live in real, not stage or movie time. The settings are beautifully realized and explored by a very able and mobile cameraman, as for once a house in a movie actually feels lived in, frayed at the edges as real things are. Ryan's drunk scene on the screened porch benefits greatly from the credibility of the setting. Notable too is the seaside bar, which also has a porch, where a long and crucial scene takes place. It is something to see. People are always going up and down stairs in the film, which has an at times forbidding and an at other times engaging sense of the vertical. We get a taste throughout the picture of the lives of working people in the pre-Eisenhower fifties, when television was not yet ubiquitous and women collected their laundry in wicker baskets. Lang and the entire RKO team behind him deserve special praise for their efforts in this film, which frequently has the feel of Edward Hopper without ever actually suggesting the painter's work. Clash By Night offers us one direction the movies might have gone in the postwar period, and didn't. CinemaScope and 3D would sweep the nation the next year, and color was becoming more common. Soon, a specialized arty operation like RKO, which had retained at least some of its talent in the years after Howard Hughes bought the studio, would go the way of the dodo. Not until the seventies, with Scorsese and Mean Streets, would a stylized, individualized view of the real world begin to creep once more into the American film, albeit in a much different key.